Life’s a …. mystery

I don’t usually cross-post, but this topic has more than one direction. It also appears in a newsletter I compile for St. Paul’s in the Pines Episcopal Church.

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I like a mystery. I was raised on Agatha Christie and Mary Stewart. I watch them on TV. And, I write mysteries myself. So, why the profound interest in the fictional disasters and deaths of people I will never know?

Because in figuring out the puzzles in the stories, or creating puzzles for others, I get to explore human relationships. And in that exploration comes truth. Truth about people, about how relationships and emotions work, truth about life.

I ran across a person recently who openly berated me for not watching the news on TV. (I hadn’t said I didn’t, but that’s a different issue.)

 He said, “You only know what you read.” (again, another discussion could focus on the fact that written news goes into deeper depth.)

But what I wanted to say, and sadly didn’t, was that fiction, while only limitedly a source of facts, is often a great source of truth. Stories are told to convey the very things I mentioned at the top. Behavior. Emotion. Relationships. Ideas. Concepts. In short, stories convey the truths of people. Or at least, they can. And those are the kind of stories I like to read and write.

The person speaking to me was very proud of the fact that what he knew came from his experience and TV. Personal experience is great, but it is limited in that it is one-sided and tied to the places one has personally been. Books – and other means of telling stories – take us to other people’s experiences. We get to see more than our own point of view, for better or for worse.

It happens that stories were greatly used by someone my conversation partner admired. Jesus used many parables to illustrate his points. And parables are distinctly defined as stories, not facts.

Truth can be found in jokes. Profoundness can be found in puns and homilies in war flicks. People of earth have communicated news and truths through words since they first decided ‘ugh!’ was used to describe something they didn’t like.

Words are thought of as written, like this column. But you are reading it on a screen. It could be illustrated with graphics or even an animation. And it could be shown to you on a news broadcast (however far-fetched that is). The point is, regardless of the tool or the medium, it’s all words. And the same care and deep thought should go into each and every one of those words when we share them. Especially if we are trying to convey truth.

I like mysteries. Humanity is life’s great mystery, and I view God as the author. While I never expect to solve this mystery, my hope is that by reading and writing about it, I can illuminate things a little and add a bit of truth to the pile.

…from My Hero

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“Whenever I have endured or accomplished some difficult task — such as watching television, going out socially or sleeping — I always look forward to rewarding myself with the small pleasure of getting back to my typewriter and writing something.”


“I write for the same reason I breathe … because if I didn’t, I would die.”

“If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn’t brood. I’d type a little faster.”

 

All three of these quotes are from Isaac Asimov, writer of over 500 works in fields as diverse as science fact, science fiction, religion, and mystery. (Hmm, diverse but not unrelated.)

I can relate to all three of these statements, as well as the fact that Asimov was indeed a generalist.  If he wanted to write about something, he did.

And that’s the kind of writer I am.

What kind are you?  Do any of these quotes describe you and writing?

 

Respond.

 

A Little Thought Off-topic…

I initially wrote this about 5 weeks ago. In light of recent developments, I felt pressed to complete and post this personal statement.

I was re-reading the title of my previous post, Never Promise What You Can’t Deliver..., within the context of current headlines and social media.  It struck me that that is where America is now. We can’t deliver on any  of the promises we have made. Not the ones our Founding Fathers made, not the ones made by our recently past presidents (even ones I was not fond of), not the ones made by our social institutions, our education system, our health care system. None of us can deliver to our children the America whose image we held up to them in the past. We’re foundering. We have promises broken and promises yet unfulfilled.  There are NO CURRENT PROMISES WE CAN TRUST that will be helpful to any of us. And although they themselves don’t realize it, they will not even be helpful to the promisers.

In light of calls to action by so many, I had to wonder, what promises am I fulfilling? What am I doing to help? Not as much as I should. And so I recommit, to take the action of putting my talents to use to make this a better country and a better world. In our fears, purposely cultivated to keep our  eyes trained on them instead of on finding solutions, we have allowed ourselves to be paralyzed. No more.

We are here (whether by accident or design) to make this a better place for all who inhabit the planet. YES. Check your prejudices – and even your religions – at the door. We Are Here to Make this a BETTER PLACE for ALL. Because if it’s not better for some, it’s not better for anyone, and we will fail. No matter who or what you believe in, even if it’s nothing. Our job is to make  this a better place.

That is the promise we need to keep.

Think about it.

Never promise what you can’t deliver…

… a brief monologue on the ways that can backfire on you

 

Besides being a means of offering my excuses for missing deadline once again, this short list enumerates various ways promising something can get you into trouble.

  1.  Most obvious and pertinent: Never put in writing the date your book will be available unless it is on its way to the printer. And not even then. Those of you who are alert will  note the ‘update’ of launch info for FLYING PURPLE  PEOPLE SEATER. I won’t bother you with excuses; there are some. It will be out soon.
  2. Never promise you will  never do something. A certain editor I know vowed she would never go so far as to cross borders to see a performance she admired; guess where she will be next month? (correct if you said not in her home country)
  3. Never promise to house-sit or pet-sit when you don’t really know your own plans. (Was that the weekend you scheduled for minor surgery on Friday and were told you’ll be out of it from the pain meds for three days?)
  4. Never promise you will be there for the birth of a child (except your own, and then not if it is your spouse who is delivering). Do I really need to mention that babies are unpredictable?
  5. Never promise payback –  whether it’s a favor, a visit, a loan, or revenge. Life is also  unpredictable.
  6. Never promise to write an article from a certain slant. You  never know when you will discover information – even during an interview with the subject – that will change everything you’re going to write.
  7. Never promise a friend or a family member that you will name a character after them or, worse, ‘put them in your book’.
  8. Following from #7 is, never promise (or brag) that you’re going to kill off your mother-in-law (or anyone real in your life) in your book. — We all do it; just don’t say so.
  9. Never put so many people or things in the plot of your novel that you can’t keep track of them. You’ll have things like boats with gunmen on them vanishing  into thin air when they would have been in a position to turn the tide of battle, but you can’t have them there because that’s not how the fight turns out. (yes, that was a thing)
  10. And never, never, as the saying goes, put a gun on a mantelpiece in a scene unless someone is going to get shot.

That’s a saying that was taught to me by my screenwriting son. It refers to economy and purpose in writing.  When you put an object or person into a scene, there’s a reason they are there. There has to be, particularly in any short writing, but even in novels.

Mysteries may be notorious for red herrings and misdirection, but that’s not what you’re doing if you are introducing stuff into scenes and not doing something with them.  Ie, there is no reason for a gun on the mantelpiece in a young woman’s apartment, unless there it is going to be used. Maybe it’s self-defense, because she feels stalked. Maybe it’s  self-defense, because she feels under siege by law enforcement. Maybe it’s self-defense, because she feels stalked and under siege by an ex-boyfriend. Maybe it just goes off and the bullet strikes her baby. Maybe she’s going to sell it, turn it in, clean it, or use it on the damn cat, but that gun needs to be used somehow. Or it needs to not be  there.

Even 600-page novels have a finite number of ideas to convey, in a finite number of words. If you can’t deliver follow-up why something is on the page, if its being there doesn’t serve a purpose later on, don’t promise the reader that it does. Take it out.

Now I’ll go finish my book. No, that was not a promise, but I will.

Thoughts….

REMAINDER (my newly-published novel) has as its background the firsremainderFrtcvrt year of war following the events of 9/11. It was the year when we tried to assimilate the shock, realized we were in a whole new world, and attempted to pull  together to cope, even as emotions tore at the fringes to rend us apart. It is one of the reasons, I think, that agents and publishers didn’t quite know what to do with it and so rejected it.

But I was intrigued by what we were going through, even as we went through it. We are a large family, and all the kids were in some form of school in 2001. We had a lot of holding and talking and loving and strategizing to do. At the same time, as any parent – particularly a mom – knows, despite everything, when the sun rises the next day (and it does), the laundry will need to be done, groceries will need to be bought, the car will need to be fixed, and (eventually) we will all need to go to school or to work. After all, they say a return to normalcy is the best way to get past a traumatic event. Maybe so, but there must be time for grief and adjustment, as well.

The people of Remainder have made their initial adjustments, and now they are learning that life does go on, and we must engage in it and cope with it. For people farther away from ground zero than New York or Washington, DC, the war could seem remote. Everyone had to decide for themselves how they regarded the war. Everyone had to decide how to incorporate the surreal with the real as they took up their live again apace.

REMAINDER is about what it’s like to face personal pain and local community trial while still reeling from blows dealt by a world gone mad. It’s about the path each of us finds through the mess we have to conquer in our own lives.

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I started writing REMAINDER some time ago, and I left it alone for a while before the final edits. I was surprised to find I’d done a little foreshadowing of reality as I was writing. While I missed where it landed our country, I picked up on the the distrust, the suspicions, the diminishing of others in our midst. I failed to see how far it would take us. Maybe just as well, because I don’t know that I wanted to write that book. But my hope is that we will come back together to be a different, a better people. That is something the people in Remainder could show us how to do.

 

Omy, omy, Oh My!

It’s getting close and I’m running late, but I may make it anyway.

Meantime, here’s the blurb from the back cover of Remainder:

“We expect the Wilson Touch.”


Wilson Parker has a reputation at Bedlowe Developers. He’s Aaron Bedlowe’s right-hand man for property acquisition. And Aaron wants property. His financial empire rests on his planned communities, and it’s time to place a jewel in the crown of his most recent venture. Aaron’s next target is Remainder, Tennessee, a rural community south of Nashville. And he’s charged Wilson with the task of getting the land he needs.

Parker’s already been in touch with a few people eager to make a buck selling land to the flashy company. One in particular, Ray Boone,has not only offered up his own property but is more than happy to help them find more. Things look good.

But maybe Parker should have spoken with someone besides Ray Boone.

Lyle Cummins, for one – de facto mayor of the unincorporated hamlet his grand-daddy founded. Or Ella Mae Knapp – retired teacher and government employee who understands far more about the world she lives in than many reckon. Or even Marty Jenkins – the wayward country singer/songwriter who enjoys raising his girls in this obscure little place.

If only Parker better understood what he was taking on when he headed down Highway 70…

…then it might not come down to a race
between him and the son of a dying man.

 

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OMG, OMG, OMG!

But now, now,  here comes the rah-rah band, pumping up the editor, bringing buckets of midnight oil, and lots and lots of caffeine.  We may make it yet, folks!